Mayor names Nicole Sherard-Freeman to lead city's economic development & workforce efforts

  • Nick Khouri to retire as economic development chief after completing State fairgrounds redevelopment - 1,200-job Amazon deal
  • New structure unifies economic development and workforce development efforts

The woman who led the workforce effort that has resulted in 4,100 Detroiters being hired so far for the new FCA assembly plant now will lead the city's economic Development efforts, as well, Mayor Mike Duggan announced today. Nicole Sherard-Freeman will assume leadership of the city's Jobs & Economy Team (JET) as JET Group Executive Nick Khouri retires at the end of December. In his year with the city, Khouri was able to help land and secure city council approval for a new $400 million, 1,200-job Amazon distribution center at the Michigan State Fairgrounds that will begin construction next month. Before joining the city in January, Khouri served as State Treasurer from 2015-18.

Sherard-Freeman will begin as Group Executive for Jobs, Economy and Detroit at Work on January 1. The announcement comes less than a week after the Mayor and Sherard-Freeman revealed that the employment efforts she led has resulted in 4,100 Detroit residents so far accepting jobs at the new FCA assembly plant that will begin production in early 2021.

"The incredible success of Detroit at Work under Nicole's leadership has become our most effective selling point from an economic development standpoint," said Mayor Mike Duggan. "Major corporations are looking at Detroit now as a great place to locate based on the strength of our workforce and our ability to produce a list of outstanding job candidates. Bringing workforce and economic development under the same leadership will provide major job creators with a seamless process for locating in Detroit and finding qualified residents to build their workforce."

Last year, Duggan named Sherard-Freeman as his Executive Director of Workforce Development and Detroit At Work. Previously, Sherard-Freeman had served as President and CEO of the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC) – the city’s workforce development arm since 2017. Under her leadership, DESC became the engine for Detroit at Work, which has provided job readiness and training to thousands of Detroit residents in in-demand fields such as skilled trades, heath care, IT, logistics, hospitality and more.

Earlier this year, Mayor Duggan also tasked Sherard-Freeman with leading the operations for Community Health Corps, a new city initiative led by Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett, that will provide direct outreach and case management to many of the city's lowest income residents to help connect them with the services and support they most need to improve their quality of life, health and economic standing. The first CHC workers are expected to begin their outreach in early November.

Since leading the city’s workforce efforts, Sherard-Freeman transformed Detroit at Work into a full-service employment agency for major job generators. Last year, in preparation for the hiring process for the new FCA plant, more than 10,000 Detroiters completed job readiness fairs and applied for jobs with FCA. As part of its agreement with the city, FCA agreed to give first preference to any Detroiter on a list of qualified applicants provided by the city. Of those who applied, 5,500 were invited for an interview and 4,100 already have been hired.

Now, Sherard-Freeman will play a central role not only in staffing major employers in Detroit, but also attracting them top the city based on the strength of the city's workforce.

There’s no better time to be intentional about aligning workforce and economic development,” said Sherard-Freeman. “We were making tremendous strides on both fronts before COVID-19. As we enter the next phase of the pandemic’s economic impact, officially leveraging one for the other will be key to measurable, sustainable economic recovery for the City.”

Born and raised in Detroit, Sherard-Freeman is a graduate of Renaissance High School, holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, and has completed graduate studies in Organizational Management and Development at Fielding Graduate University.

Mayor Duggan thanked Khouri for his service to the city and his role in moving forward the long-sought redevelopment of the Michigan State Fairgrounds and Amazon’s planned distribution center.

“Thanks to Nick’s efforts the State Fairgrounds will be put back to productive use generating needed tax revenue for the city and 1,200 new jobs will be created just in this first phase of the redevelopment,” Mayor Duggan said.

Khouri said the completion of the Amazon deal was his main goal when he accepted the Mayor’s job offer and now is the right time for him to move on.

“I’m deeply grateful to the mayor for allowing me to serve as part of his incredible team. The Mayor managed to pull me out of retirement for a while and I’m deeply grateful to have been a part of his incredible team,” Khouri said. “Now that the Amazon deal is complete, this is the right time for me to get back to my Plan A and spend time with my family.”

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